Hello to all you Dragon Ball fans! My name's megaya and I'm a writer.
Just recently, I, a fully grown adult, bought the latest chapter of the Dragon Ball Super manga, which ended up relighting my obsession with Dragon Ball after 20 years. It turns out that watching Goku power up time and time again just never gets old!
While going back through the series, it struck me that Goku didn't get as strong as he did alone—he went through countless training periods under the instruction of unforgettable characters like Grandpa Gohan, Kamesennin, Karin, Kami & Mr. Popo, Kaio, Beerus & Whis... the list goes on!
And then it hit me! Getting stronger isn't just about training, I figured you also need a master to guide you! Even if you're a total beginner, by studying under a master you'll not only be able to become more skillful, but you might just improve at a faster rate.
So to test my theory, I'll be conducting a little experiment to see how good a fighting game novice like myself can get by training with a pro gamer!
The game I chose is a 1v1 fighting game that's played all across the world, Dragon Ball FighterZ, which I'll be referring to simply as "FighterZ" from here on out.
You might be wondering why I opted for a fighting game, but one main reason was that I just felt like playing a Dragon Ball fighting game for the first time in ages. Plus, what makes Dragon Ball so great is that it's all about fighting and getting stronger—something I want to experience firsthand.
Let me make one thing clear: I am definitely NOT just using this all as an excuse to play games at work. This is research. Scientific research!
As a quick aside and to bring you up to speed with my Dragon Ball game history, I played Dragon Ball Z: Super Butoden 3 (1994) for the Super Famicom as an elementary school kid, and then was completely obsessed with Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 2 (2004) for the PS2 while I was attending junior high school. However, when it comes to FighterZ, the latest Dragon Ball fighting game to be released, my play time was zero.
As for the pro gamer who'll be my master through this process, I called upon none other than the number one FighterZ player in the world and winner of the world championships, GO1! If this doesn't go well, I won't have anyone to blame but myself. I feel a bit like Goku from the manga, except instead of bumping into Bulma in the jungle and starting my journey from there, I've been thrust straight into training with Beerus!
GO1: Pro fighting game player. Member of CYCLOPS athlete gaming. Undefeated in a Dragon Ball FighterZ match in Japan since the game's release. Placed first at EVO2019 (Evolution 2019) and the Red Bull Dragon Ball FighterZ World Tour Finals (2020), making him the undisputed best player in the world. Is a multifaceted competitor with many achievements in a variety of games, including MELTY BLOOD and Street Fighter V. His iron-wall-like defense built on a foundation of near-instant reactions and the ability to read his opponent is something that even other pros struggle to penetrate. His favorite Dragon Ball character is Vegeta.
And just like that, I've found myself a master to help me with this experiment so good that it's a little frightening. I'm definitely worried whether I'll be able to keep up with him at all, but for now, all I can do is my best. Let's do this!
When I was finally able to pluck up the courage to meet with GO1, he bestowed upon me some words of wisdom: "First, you should focus on understanding the game's mechanics."
So with that in mind, I rushed over to the offices of Bandai Namco Entertainment, the company that publishes FighterZ, where who should I run into but the game's producer Tomoko Hiroki, who told me all about what makes it so fun yet also unique.
Just to recap, I had the game explained to me by the very person who created it, all in preparation for my training with the world's number one player... I'd never felt so blessed! I was tumbling full speed down the rabbit hole, straight into Dragon Ball wonderland!
The creator of FighterZ, producer Tomoko Hiroki
Tomoko was a member of the Dragon Ball generation that grew up reading the manga in Jump and playing Dragon Ball Z: Super Butoden on the Super Famicom. The fact that she was able to grow up to become the producer for a hit Dragon Ball game shows that dreams really can come true!
According to Tomoko, what makes FighterZ special is that it lets you enjoy the constant back-and-forth action of fighting games while taking it to the next level with the thrills and flashiness that only Dragon Ball can provide. Plus, it's a game that's not only fun to play, but it's also fun to watch.
The fights in Dragon Ball can be complete chaos—some are so fast the eye can't keep up, some are fought midair, and some even burst through the stratosphere straight into outer space! It would seem that recreating all that blissful chaos in a fighting game was quite the endeavor!
3v3 battles where you can switch between characters at will definitely let you experience the wild intensity of a genuine clash in Dragon Ball!
(Clip taken from Training Mode)
Plus, in place of the fighting game staple of the throw technique, a different move was implemented to better capture the spirit of Dragon Ball. I'm of course talking about the Dragon Rush move, which allows you to unleash a flurry of devastating punches and kicks on your opponent in epic Dragon Ball style!
Dragon Rush (Clip taken from Training Mode)
The choice to combine anime-style 2D graphics with 3D elements to create a 2.5D hybrid was made with the goal of letting the player feel as if they were in full control of the Dragon Ball anime.
From the way she talked about FighterZ, I really got the sense that Tomoko's love of Dragon Ball is about as immense as the pressure Goku must've been under when he went through his 100G training!
Winning a match under certain conditions, like using specific characters in a specific place, will allow you to perform a Dramatic Finish—an epic finisher animation that recreates an iconic Dragon Ball scene straight from the anime!
In a FighterZ battle, fierce flurries of attacks, a.k.a. combos, are exchanged at break-neck speed as characters leap through the air and clash against one another. Combos are crucial in determining the outcome of a battle, and when your combo counter starts climbing up and up, you'll get a rush that'll have you thinking you're watching the anime all over again!
Tomoko was also kind enough to teach me about the Training Mode (Arcade Mode), which goes beyond the scope of a mere tutorial and is more like a breakdown of all the skills a player needs to take the leap from beginner to intermediate. Plus, it's all taught by Dragon Ball characters! With this mode, I'm sure I can get to grips with all the foundational concepts underlying the back-and-forth of fighting games. I owe you one, Tomoko!
My day of training with GO1 was about two weeks away, so I used that time to get acquainted with fighting games using the Training Mode. Thanks to my two weeks of hard work, I felt I'd improved a lot—in Dragon Ball terms, I went from the Power Level-5 farmer to being Goku right around the time he was delivering milk as a part of his training with Kamesennin.
And then came the day of training with GO1. Finally, I got my chance to learn from the very best!! What followed were two hours of one-on-one tuition with the legend himself.
At the end of this article, I'll be giving my thoughts on how big an impact those two hours of training had on my skill level.
How could someone as humble as GO1 really be the best in the world?!
Master, thank you so much for joining me today. Let's get right down to business. I want to know what it feels like to play against the best in the world. How about a quick match?
No problem. I'm not gonna go easy on you!
As I'm sure you can guess, I'm playing as Goku (left health bar) and GO1 is Majin Buu (right health bar). Yeah, I took an absolute beating...
Covered head-to-toe in bruises, I got K.O.'ed. Meanwhile, GO1 hadn't taken a lick of damage!!
I didn't stand a chance! Time was passing by and all I could do was sit there and clutch my controller in dismay...!
It felt just like one of those times when Yamcha would exclaim, "I can't even see what's happening...!" as his eyes struggle to keep up with the speed of the fight he's witnessing. In all honesty and without a word of exaggeration, I had no clue what GO1 was doing during our battle. Did my two weeks of preparation amount to nothing at all...?
In a desperate attempt to save face, I thought to argue, in true elementary-school-kid fashion, that the match wasn't fair on account of me using a regular PS4 controller while he got to use an arcade controller. However, it turns out that there are a considerable number of pro FighterZ players overseas who prefer the PS4 controller... Talk about rubbing salt in the wound!
I couldn't even get an attack in! You've got me a bit worried about whether or not I can actually get decent at this game. Where do you think a good place to start would be for a beginner?
First off, I recommend learning a combo! By learning just one, your strategic options in each battle will increase a lot. Plus, if you manage to pull it off for real, the rush you get will definitely keep you coming back for more!
So to practice a combo, is it just like baseball where you repeat the same motions over and over again?
That's right! Practice again and again. It's important to keep practicing until you can execute it 100% of the time without any misinputs. Until you get to that point, just keep repeating the combo while practicing and playing matches.
That sounds like quite the grind!
It might feel like a grind, but setting concrete goals, like mastering a combo, and working towards them is the key to success. Achieving those goals one by one will also boost your motivation.
Next, let's go through the game's unique mechanics, starting with the Super Dash.
You can use this move whether you're on the ground or midair. Super Dash lets you close the gap between you and your opponent very quickly, and when it connects, it gives you the opportunity to convert into a midair combo, making it a great way to launch a string of attacks. Your character will also deflect weak Ki Blasts while charging at your opponent, and they'll even pursue them automatically should they attempt to disengage. Overall, it's a super important mechanic in the game.
Another powerful move is the Z Assist, which allows one of your standby characters to enter the arena to back up your active character and attack your opponent. This move gives you the numbers advantage, so it's definitely one that you'll want to use often!
Interesting! I've been using the Super Dash, but I've been having to concentrate so hard on just one character during battles that I haven't had the chance to use Assists yet! But if it's something that you use a lot, then I've gotta try it out!
There are 3 types of Z Assist in the game for each character, 'A', 'B', and 'C'. I'd recommend starting with Z Assist C since it'll let you pull off a combo just by landing well-timed attacks!
So Z Assist C is good for beginners... got it! I'm getting so much more out of this than all the time I spent playing alone. Having a teacher to help you makes such a big difference!
Goku is the active character, but by using a Z Assist, Vegeta steps in from the sidelines and the pair of Saiyans pull off a sweet combo. (Clip taken from Training Mode)
Woah, transitioning into a combo from Z Assist C is super simple and feels awesome!!
FighterZ is a 3v3 free-switching game filled with chaotic fights and, thanks to the variety of characters to choose from and all the possible Assist configurations, there are basically infinite ways to play. One of the game's biggest appeals is how much fun you can have experimenting with all the different strategies!
It doesn't take long to appreciate this when you really start playing them, but fighting games are so layered and complex! No matter how much you play, it feels like you can never truly master them.
Mastering them is next to impossible. Plus, FighterZ characters periodically get buffed and nerfed, so you have to go through all of them again to internalize the changes and then adjust your playstyle accordingly. The process never ends!
GO1 kept giving me praise, saying how good I was and how fast I was improving, which made playing with him so much fun. His power level is on par with a God of Destruction, but he's so kindhearted that I'm sure he'd have no problem climbing atop the Kintoun!
However, when a match starts, his demeanor shifts as he enters into his deadly focused battle mode. I'm starting to think he might actually be a member of the fabled warrior race...
Thank you so much for teaching me all those techniques! I also wanted to ask you if you had any other secrets to success outside of raw gameplay?
My best advice is to find a player who's a similar skill level to yourself and strive to get better together while also competing against one another. By pitting yourself up against a rival, you'll improve in no time at all.
You're essentially describing Goku and Vegeta! Do you have your own rival?
The American player, SonicFox. Right around the time where I had never lost a match in a Japanese tournament, SonicFox was stomping through all the American tournaments.
Our rivalry came about naturally as we went up against each other time and time again in the grand finals of various tournaments.
GO1 and SonicFox go head-to-head in the grand finals of the EVO2019 world championships.
SonicFox can be seen congratulating GO1, who had just become world no. 1.
Whenever SonicFox shows up to a tournament, I always become super determined to not drop out before the grand finals. We both train hard to be able to take each other down, and we get to test whose preparation was better when we face off at the tournament. I wouldn't trade my time battling against them for anything in the world.
It's like you're channeling Goku's spirit when he says stuff like, "I want to get even stronger! And fight even more powerful opponents!!"
I can always learn so much from the way they play, and so long as they continue to play and compete, I'll have a reason to do the same. There are also times when we practice together before a tournament.
That just goes to show how crucial competing against others is when it comes to getting better at fighting games.
Playing against another player teaches you so much. That's especially true when you're practicing offline in preparation for a tournament, and you can ask your opponent exactly how they performed a certain move. Practice sessions with a partner that go all the way through the night are a pretty common occurrence.
Woah! It's like you and your practice partners are training in the Room of Spirit and Time!
To become a truly skilled player, perfecting the techniques is not enough. You also need to be physically fit, mentally tough, and rigorously self-disciplined.
GO1 himself is known to measure his pulse while warming up for a match and then intentionally raise it to the speed it reaches when he's in his most concentrated state during the real thing. He also speed reads to temporarily boost his concentration power and reaction speed.
By flicking through (not reading) a medium-sized book for roughly 5 seconds, GO1 can "absorb the content."
For GO1, the matches begin long before he lays a hand on his controller.
And to keep his brain fueled with glucose, he's always got a spare pack of Ramune hidden in his arcade controller.
Apparently, he scoffs down a handful when he's feeling fatigued after a match, so, yeah, they're basically his Senzu beans!
After 2 intense hours of practice with GO1, I'd gained a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of FighterZ, not to mention it was a ton of fun! It felt like I'd been hanging out and playing video games at a friend's house as opposed to being put through rigorous training.
Master, to see just how far I've come, what do you say we play one last match?
You're on! Remember everything you've learned and bring it on!
And with that, the final showdown began!! 2 hours of hard work all came down to this!!!
But first, a delicious Ramune to perk myself up...
...and a quick jog to get my pulse up!
Check me out playing as Goku (left health bar) as I chain my Z Assist into a devastating Dragon Rush!
Here comes another big Z Assist!
Woah!! I'm a way better fighter than before!!!
During our first match, all I could do was try not to let go of the controller, but now I'm actually holding my own!
This is it... I can do this... I can win! I might be able to take down a pro...!!
Well, I guess it comes as no surprise, but pros don't go down that easy. I may have been able to land a few hits, but I still got beaten to a pulp. I should just change my name to Yamcha.
However, these two hours were far from a waste of time. The Super Dash, how to use Assists, Blocking, Combos... everything GO1 taught me had become a part of me. It had only been a mere 120 minutes, but the fact I'd improved significantly was undeniable!
Alright, I got this! Let's go for one more round! This time I might just be able to take down one of your three fighters!!
As a result of my getting carried away, I ended up losing in spectacular fashion without inflicting a single morsel of damage to GO1. It felt like something out of a comedy manga—and I was the punchline!
I should mention, although I've only talked about a handful of matches in this article, we actually played over and over for as long as GO1's schedule would allow. I reckon we easily played ten or more times and I couldn't be more grateful! Sometimes the strongest people are also the kindest.
My experience also made me appreciate all over again just how great video games can be. There's no way a professional martial artist and a kid would ever be able to fight each other for real, but a professional gamer and a kid...? Now that's something that just might happen. In the gaming world, anybody can compete against anybody on a completely level playing field—all that matters is your skill.
Having had private tuition from GO1 himself, I wanted to finish off this article by setting and accomplishing a FighterZ goal.
After some research, I learned about the hidden characters Super Saiyan God SS Goku and Vegeta, who could be unlocked by clearing the Training Mode (Arcade Mode) on hard difficulty with an A-rank (stages completed quickly with minimal damage taken).
"Clear hard mode with an A-rank" is about as clear-cut a goal as one could hope to find! With SSGSS Goku and Vegeta in my sights, I got right down to practicing!!
GO1 has a super helpful video series where he takes an in-depth look at one character each time. Even without him by my side, I was still able to feel my beloved master's presence through the screen as I studied away!
GO1 also taught me that watching other people's match replays is a great way to improve, so I started watching tournament matches on repeat. Rewatching them after practicing, I was in complete awe of how seamlessly the pros string together combos...!
It really put into perspective just how far I still had to go, which, in turn, boosted my motivation and I was able to keep practicing combos until my thumbs got sore.
(Screenshot taken from Training Mode)
At first, practicing combos was a complete chore. It's a grind, and being unable to pull them off in a real match just added to the stress and frustration.
However, as the combos start clicking, it all starts to feel worth it. You get a huge adrenaline rush when you pull off a combo in a match and the thrill of knowing you're getting better is incredible!
(Screenshot taken from Training Mode)
After just under a month of practicing two hours a day, I finally achieved my goal. It was one hell of a month!
I can't count how many times I wanted to give up, but man did it feel good when that clear screen finally appeared. Beyond just the scope of games, I feel like for the first time in a long time, I got to experience the simple pleasure of working hard at something and getting better as a result.
To bring things full circle, let's return to the question that started this all: "How good can a fighting game novice like me get by training with a pro gamer?" Well, even though my time with GO1 was limited, I think a fair conclusion would be to say, "Incomparably better than before training with a pro gamer!"
However, more so than the speed of my improvement, I found that being taught how to improve as well as learning about the game in-depth were the most important factors.
It can be difficult for an amateur to comprehend the true complexities of the game, but with GO1's help I was able to appreciate what truly makes it fun, which then made it easier to dive headfirst into my training. As a result, I was able to get better and better!
Which is all to say, having a teacher is a must! I think I'm starting to understand Gohan's never-ending respect and admiration for his master, Piccolo!
Now that I've cleared hard mode, I'm right there with Goku in that all I'm thinking about is finding stronger opponents to face off against! For now, I'm gonna take my training to the next level! My next goal: compete in an official FighterZ tournament!!!
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